So after a couple long days of traveling (highlights of the airport include tripping over my bag when I saw my friends because I was so excited, teacup booths in the amsterdam airport, getting in trouble for taking a picture of the security so I had to delete the picture, and making friends with JW and Drew by talking the whole time on the flight to Istanbul. Oh, also, I was really worried, but turns out jet lag is actually not that bad, I adjusted fine immediately by pulling a sort of all-nighter and going to bed early, but probs it was so easy just because I have such a weird sleeping schedule as is.)
After traveling, I got to spend four days exploring Istanbul, Turkey with my entire group. Although my first impressions were a little shaking because they included figuring out how to turn on the lights and flush the toilet in my hotel room after staying up all night and day, I ended up loving it. It was an amazing experience not only because we were in such a neat city, but because we didn't know each other at all and we got to spend the time becoming friends! Yay friendship! Ok so on to the highlights of Istanbul...
First we have a few incredible mosques: the Haggia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, and the little Haggia Sofia.
They were all beautiful and really neat to see, but my favorite was the Haggia Sofia because it was a church for a while before being converted into a mosque, so you could see Arabic writings and all the mosque stuff, as well as many images of Christ, Mary, prophets and saints.
My favorite part about the Blue Mosque was that it is still a functioning Mosque, so not only were there tourists there, but there were Muslims there praying. It was neat to really see such a beautiful building being used to connect people to God.
The little Haggia Sophia was fun because we were the only ones there and it was much less touristy than the other two!
Then we have a couple old historical sites: the Basilica Cistern (which is a cool, waterstorage architecture place from ancient times), the Hippodrome (insanely old post, the remains of the greek chariot racing site),
[Note: my camera ran out of batteries that day, so I don't have any pictures of the Hippodrome or the Basilica Cistern, which is a bummer because they were very cool places, but it was a good lesson for me to charge my camera daily so that doesn't happen again. Woot!]
and the City Walls (which were incredibly old and vast, our bus driver told us that he lived around them growing up and Turkey had an earthquake once when he was a kid and all his neighbors and family stayed in the ruins, how cool is that?!)
I thought it was amazing to see such old ruins that have been a part of their culture and their city for ages and are still standing, all the old civilizations of other parts of the world are unlike anything we have in America.
Next we have a couple beautiful palaces.
Topkapi Palace was beautiful and huge, but it was outside and very cold. We got the chance to wander around for awhile, and my friend Jordan and I made a game of trying to take pictures of the jewels and other random very valuable stuff in the rooms where cameras weren't allowed. (they claimed to have the staff of Moses and the sword of David and hair from Muhammed's beard... so weird.)
It was super fun blocking each other and trying to snap pictures when the guards were turned the other way, but we got so caught up in our picture taking that we missed the meeting time for the group and thought we got left behind.
The Dolmabance Palace was the most beautiful building I have ever been in, no competition. I have no words for the beauty and magnitude of that palace; it is beyond indescribable. Pictures were not allowed, which I really liked because pictures would not have been able to capture the beauty anyways and then I really got to experience it without looking through a camera lens. We took lots of pictures outside of the palace, but the amazing part was the inside. I will never forget how incredible all those rooms were!
Another one of my favorite things was visiting a couple churches, particularly the Church of Pammakaristos (Fethiye Mosque when it became a Mosque for a time). I LOVED the way all the pictures on the ceiling told the story of Jesus; it was incredible to imagine using those images to understand the Bible in a time when most people couldn't read it for themselves.
To give you an understanding of how I felt in this beautiful church, I will just include part of my journal entry:
So I've realized I really enjoy connecting with God through being in a place that feels holy and sacred to me. While everyone was wandering around touring talking and photo-taking or even listening to the tour guide, I loved being off on my own in a big beautiful room created for God's glory enjoying his creation and simply standing in awe of Him and worshiping Him. I am constantly amazing by how beautiful, powerful, and worthy of praise our God is, and this beautiful church that I got to spend some alone time with God in is a beautiful reminder of that. This morning in Turkey I found myself singing praises and glory to a God I am struck with awe at once again... God is so powerful! I love how architecture can be such an incredible reminder of that.
The Church of St. Savior was small and a quick visit, nothing exciting, but the part of Istanbul that it was in was really cool to see because it was a very conservative Muslim community where every woman was completely covered.
Alright, let's talk about shopping! The Grand Bazaar is the big shopping place where they have every knockoff you could possibly want and all the touristy souvenirs. The Grand Bazaar was a lot of fun because you get to bargain for prices (which I LOVE to do), it's amusing to hear the lines the sellers use to try to get you to buy their stuff, and they have hilarious attempts at wooing us or getting us to go out on dates with them.
We also went to this sick authentic handwoven turkish rug place,
where we got a demonstration on how the women make the rugs, got to see a ton of beautiful rugs, learned how to tell if a rug is legit handwoven turkish or machinemade, and were told the prices so none of us made purchases!
I mean, in this picture, I am laying on a $60,000 rug, but it was seriously sooo comfy. The turkish rug store was a lot of fun and very upscale. I definitely have a newfound appreciation for a good rug.
A highlight I cannot neglect to mention is GOING TO ASIA!!!! We took a ferry across the river and spent the afternoon wandering around the Asia side of Istanbul (where much less people speak English, they are much less used to visitors, and it is not touristy at all). It was SO FUN to just walk around, shop, eat lunch, and people watch in a place where everyone is a local.
After long days of sightseeing, we would often spend an hour or so lounging and relaxing in the spa in the basement of our hotel before going out for the night, which was so nice. This included a confusing turkish bath that we never knew what to do in, a steam room, a sauna, and lots of old overweight turkish men with very little clothes on that made us very uncomfortable, but it was a lot of fun!
On our last day after sightseeing all morning, we spent a couple hours taking a nice, relaxing, beautiful cruise tour of the riverside of Istanbul. Needless to say, we were all already in love with the city, but it was fun to see it from a different perspective.
So those are the main exciting parts of my trip to Turkey! Despite all the incredible history and beauty I saw, I think the very best times were wandering around the city square in the evening, laughing with new friends, finding a place to eat dinner, trying to order some food without speaking the language, making conversation with locals, and watching people at night in the square before heading back to the hotel and back to sleep.